Every year, the state of Florida is a top vacation destination for travelers in the United States. They flock to the beautiful beaches that surround three sides of the state. Though it is located away from the coastline, central Florida is a destination that should not be overlooked. The city of Ocala in Marion County contains many interesting sights and offers a number of experiences for those visiting the Sunshine State, including lakes, wedding venues, RV parks, zip line and great restaurants.
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Central Florida is home to the Ocala National Forest, a large sand scrub pine forest filled with natural hot springs. Located in the forest, Alexander Springs Recreational Area is a beautiful fresh water spring that is easily accessible to tourists.
Visitors to the area can enjoy swimming, snorkeling, or scuba diving in the turquoise waters that stay at a constant 72 degrees Fahrenheit. There are picnic areas and paved walking trails around the spring and a campground with spaces for tents and RV’s. Fishing, canoeing, and off-road ATV riding are also available in the area.
County Road 445 Altoona, FL 32702, Phone: 352-669-3522
2.Appleton Museum of Art
© Appleton Museum of Art
Located on the campus of the College of Central Florida, the Appleton Museum of Art is one of the premiere destinations for fine art in Florida. The museum consists of five galleries and an auditorium surrounding a beautifully landscaped courtyard.
An expansive collection of European art, artifacts, and design is on display year-round. Various travelling exhibits are displayed throughout the year. The museum also hosts special classes, lectures, art shows, and competitions for the enjoyment and enrichment of the public.
4333 E. Silver Springs Blvd. Ocala, FL 34470, Phone: 352-291-4455
3.Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing
© Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing
“Big Daddy” Don Garlits is regarded as the father of drag racing. During his forty year career, he racked up 144 national event titles and seventeen world championships. Garlits designed and fabricated the cars he raced, and today, those cars can be seen at his museum in Ocala.
The museum contains a collection of Don’s famous dragsters, as well as other classic cars, racing memorabilia, and a gift shop. Don and his wife Pat live next door, so visitors may catch a glimpse of Big Daddy outside mowing the grass.
13700 SW 16th Ave Ocala, FL 34473, Phone: 352-245-8661
4.Gypsy Gold Horse Farm, Ocala, Florida
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In 1995 during a trip to England, the stunning black and white horses of an English farm fascinated Dennis and Cindy Thompson. They exported sixteen of them back to Florida and worked to have the Gypsy Vanner breed officially recognized. Today, Dennis breeds and sells these beautiful horses on his Ocala farm.
Every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday morning at 10 a.m., visitors can take a walking tour of the farm and have an up-close and personal experience with this unusual breed. Private group tours are also available and must be booked in advance.
12501 SW 8th Ave Ocala, FL 34473, Phone: 866-497-7982
5.Juniper Prairie Wilderness Area
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The 14,000-acre Juniper Prairie Wilderness Area is one of four wilderness areas in the Ocala National Forest. It is a fine example of untouched sand pine scrub forest with no roads or motor vehicle access.
Walking trails cross the area, providing visitors with access to several habitats, including marsh, hardwood swamp, grass prairie, and pine flatwoods. More information about the various habitats can be found in the on-sight interpretive center. Guests can also paddle across the wetlands in canoes, with rentals available at nearby Juniper Springs. Tent camping is available at Juniper Prairie. Campers must bring their own drinking water.
6.Things to Do in Ocala, FL: Ocala Civic Theatre
© Ocala Civic Theatre
Plays, musicals, concerts, and more can be found at the Ocala Civic Theatre. The theatre is a cultural hub for the theatre arts in central Florida. They stage twelve productions per year, and host touring productions.
The theatre also offers educational classes and workshops for children from ages 4 to 18 as well as continuing education for adult students. Topics covered include movement, improvisation, musical performance, and the technical aspects of staging a theatre production. Tickets can be purchased online, by phone, or at the theatre box office. Season passes are also available.
4337 E. Silver Springs Blvd Ocala, FL 34470, Phone: 352-236-2274
7.The Blue Wagyu, Ocala, Florida
© The Blue Wagyu
With its tender, creamy texture and rich flavor, Wagyu beef is some of the most desirable meat in the world. At the Blue Wagyu, this delicious dish is always on the menu. The restaurant serves authentic wagyu beef, raised locally in Marion County.
Guests can try an authentic wagyu burger with a side of fresh, hand-cut French fries. They also serve homemade pizza, sandwiches, and salads using fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. Menu selections vary by season, so there is always something new to try at The Blue Wagyu.
6998 North U.S. Highway 27 Unit #1111 Ocala, FL 34482, Phone: 352-622-9977
8.La Cuisine French Restaurant
© La Cuisine French Restaurant
Traditional French cuisine, right in the heart of Florida! La Cuisine serves French favorites such as escargot, French onion soup, duck a l’orange, and ratatouille, prepared in the traditional style with fresh, local ingredients when possible.
Patrice Perron, a native of Lyon, France who trained at some of the finest restaurants in the country established the restaurant in 2009. La Cuisine has won four Golden Spoon awards and has been featured on The Travel Channel.
48 SW 1st Ave Ocala, FL 34471, Phone: 352-433-2570
9.Belleview-Santos Trail, Ocala, Florida
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Central Florida is home to a variety of landscapes and ecosystems, including scrub pine forest and cypress swamps. The Belleview-Santos trail is a great place for visitors to view the Florida wilderness up close. This 4 ½ mile loop trail is located outside of Ocala.
There are restrooms, picnic tables, and a paved parking lot at the trailhead. Hikers, cyclists, and horseback riders are all allowed to use this trail. Visitors who may want to stay the night or explore longer hikes can take advantage of the Santos campsite located nearby.
10.Sholom Park, Ocala, FL
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Sholom Park is a peaceful retreat located in Ocala, Florida, where guests can come to reflect and seek tranquility and peace. The 44-acre park grounds were designed with a mix of native plants and carefully chosen trees, shrubs, and perennials.
The park is made up of eleven beautifully landscaped areas, including a formal garden, an azalea trail, a labyrinth, and a ginger garden. Paved walkways cross the park and lead guests from one area to the next. There is no fee for admission to Sholom Park, which is open daily, but donations are accepted to provide for park maintenance.
7110 SW 80TH Ave Ocala, FL 34481
11.Silver River Museum, Ocala, Florida
© Silver River Museum
The Silver River Museum and Environmental Education Center is an educational program maintained by the Marion County school system. The museum exists to teach children about the natural history and ecology of Florida and its native peoples.
Exhibits showcase the plant and animal life of Florida, the state’s various ecosystems, insects, reptiles, and the history and lifestyle of the Seminole Indians. During the week, the museum is closed to the public for the use of various school groups. On the weekend, the public can visit the museum for an admission fee of $2.00. Children under six are admitted free of charge.
1445 NE 58th Ave Ocala, FL 34470, Phone: 352-236-5401
Next read: Ocala zip lines
12.Things to Do in Ocala, FL: Silver Springs State Park
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Silver Springs State Park is a favorite outdoor destination for both tourists and central Florida locals. The park is named for its crystal clear natural spring, which flows into the Silver River.
Guests to the park can walk on paved trails around the spring through the surrounding woods or take a glass-bottomed boat ride and view underwater wildlife from their seats. Travelers are also able to bring their own canoes or kayaks and explore the river. The park also contains picnic areas, a museum and educational center, and a campground with both campsites and cabins available for rental.
12 Best Things to Do in Ocala, Florida
- Alexander Springs, Photo: Courtesy of Wilfred - Fotolia.com
- Appleton Museum of Art, Photo: Appleton Museum of Art
- Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing, Photo: Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing
- Gypsy Gold Horse Farm, Ocala, Florida, Photo: Courtesy of alexanderbull - Fotolia.com
- Juniper Prairie Wilderness Area, Photo: Courtesy of tsvetock - Fotolia.com
- Things to Do in Ocala, FL: Ocala Civic Theatre, Photo: Ocala Civic Theatre
- The Blue Wagyu, Ocala, Florida, Photo: The Blue Wagyu
- La Cuisine French Restaurant, Photo: La Cuisine French Restaurant
- Belleview-Santos Trail, Ocala, Florida, Photo: Courtesy of Piotr - Fotolia.com
- Sholom Park, Ocala, FL, Photo: Courtesy of MinhHa - Fotolia.com
- Silver River Museum, Ocala, Florida, Photo: Silver River Museum
- Things to Do in Ocala, FL: Silver Springs State Park, Photo: Courtesy of Don - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of MinhHa - Fotolia.com